Gems Of The Hudson Valley
Four country-casual clubs with great golf pedigrees.
West Hills Country Club
A recent course renovation at West Hills saw the Bonura family invest several million dollars into a remodeled clubhouse, catering facility, pool, and tennis operation. The new poolside cabanas and dining area make this a popular place for the whole family.
The Bonuras also brought in Jim Fazio to rebuild much of the golf course, with very good results. The original first hole remains, but there’s a new second hole that plays over the Walkill River and doglegs back to the old seventh green, making a 529-yard par four. After you tee off, you’ll drive over a historic suspension bridge designed by Roebling & Sons, builders of the Brooklyn Bridge. Also relatively new is the fourth hole, an uphill 160-yard par three with a green that’s wider from the tee than you’d think. Next comes a birdie-length dogleg par five of 486 yards. Your second shot plays uphill to a bunker-lined landing area. The 385-yard par-four sixth hole just cries out for a driver but will punish an off-line shot severely.
The back nine was basically left intact during the renovation, although the greens were upgraded along with the rest of the course. The 11th hole, a 417-yard par four, plays along the river, making it one of the most picturesque on an already-scenic golf course.
Another enhancement at West Hills is the new nine-hole par-three course built along the river. It was designed so golfers—and not-yet golfers—could enjoy the game without the pressure of playing on a full-size championship course. Three different sets of tees give the nine holes lengths from 76 to 240 yards and make the River Course fun for everyone.
Paramount Country Club
One of the great golf club rejuvenation stories in recent years is set at Paramount, where the Mandelbaum family set out to put some life back into the property that once belonged to Paramount Pictures founder Adolf Zukor. They started the project in 2009 and triumphed unequivocally.
While great attention was paid to the food and beverage operations, as well as the clubhouse and other facilities, it was the restoration of the A.W. Tillinghast golf course by architect Jim Urbina that really put the club on the map. “Paramount has subtleties that we just don’t do anymore in modern architecture,” Urbina says. “It’s the gradual slope of the greens and their locations, what’s in the background. Or, look at the routing. It’s that up-and-down, up-and-down style of golf, where some holes are a test and some are breathers.”
Most players will remember the testers, of course, and Paramount has plenty of them, starting with the very first hole. As head pro Steve Scott points out: “You won’t find very many harder pars.” The hole, a 372-yard par four, requires a tee shot under 200 yards to stay short of the road that crosses the fairway. That leaves a long, uphill approach that requires at least two more clubs than the distance in the yardage book to clear the false front on the steeply canted green. It’s no wonder the first hole is also the number-one handicap hole on the course.
The back nine presents some other fun-to-tackle holes. The 12th, for example, a 394-yard par four, calls for a long draw off the tee, to hold the reverse-canted fairway as it bends left about 250 yards from the tee. You must then get your distance absolutely right for the shot to land on the elevated green. Hit short, and your ball will roll back 50 yards. Land above the cup, though, and putting off the green and into perdition is equally possible.
The next hole, a 250-yard par three, is one of Urbina’s favorites. “Tillinghast talked about a one-shot hole where you had to use a wood driver that required the player to execute a long shot,” he says. “A hole with that length was unheard of then, but Tillinghast knew the game was changing, and even in that era, the ball was traveling farther.” Urbina restored a wicked bunker on the right-front of the green, to make it even more fun.
Paramount measures a punishing 6,781 yards and carries a 72.7 rating/126 slope from the back tees.
Woodstock Golf Club
Nine-hole courses are some of the Hudson Valley’s underappreciated golf experiences, and Woodstock Golf Club certainly falls into that category. The club features a fine mix of short and long holes that can entertain you for a couple of hours, perfect for the quick late-afternoon or evening round. It’s a relaxed, casual, friendly place—the way a golf club ought to be. And the setting beneath the slopes of Overlook Mountain, at the entrance to the town of Woodstock, makes for a beautiful walk with your clubs.
Founded in 1929, Woodstock has had some interesting members over the years, including satirical-cartoonist/inventor Rube Goldberg. The course is also the site of the Woodstock Open, which the Club claims is the longest-running US golf tournament held at the same course and open to both pros and amateurs. Gene Sarazen teed it up twice in the Open in the 1960s but failed to win either time.
You can play a full 18 if you like, of course, and different tees give you a front nine of 2,735 yards and a back of 2,695. While the course is short, a plethora of rock formations, deep rough, and water hazards keep you on your toes. Position is everything on this golf course, so aim carefully on every tee. The second hole, a par four at 359 yards, is a perfect example of the multitude of trouble spots that threaten your score throughout the course. It begins with a tee shot that must be under 230 yards to avoid the creek that cuts across the fairway. If you’re lucky enough to end up on the left side, you’ll have a level lie and a short iron or wedge into the elevated, two-tiered green. But don’t get overconfident: That green is narrow, deep, and bunkered on three sides. Par is a good score here.
Red Hook Golf Club
Red Hook, NY
Bring your walking shoes when you visit Red Hook Golf Club. The course is eminently walkable and surrounded by excellent scenery that’s best enjoyed on foot. You also won’t have to worry about climbing mountains; Red Hook is laid out on pleasantly level terrain with many push-up greens, mogul-lined fairways, and generous use of natural doglegs to provide the challenge.
Red Hook measures 6,539 yards from the blue tees, although there are three shorter tee boxes to make the course enjoyable for golfers at all levels. The rating is 72.4 with a 132 slope, which should give you a good idea of how difficult it can play. Shot placement is everything on this winding, twisting layout.
Your first hint of how much fun the course can be comes on the third hole, a 559-yard double-dogleg par five. The tee shot is over water and uphill, but the real tester is your second shot, which has to avoid bunkers and trees on the right while staying out of the rough on the left. Another par five, the 480-yard 13th, is a real scenic gem. Your tee shot—a blind one—has to navigate through a notch in the woods, then avoid the pond that cuts across the landing area about 200 yards out. If you insist on risking a driver in search of a very slim reward, there is a 10-yard ribbon of fairway to the right of the pond at 250 yards from the tee. The hole wraps around the pond with only a perfectly aimed second shot leaving you a clear approach to the tiny green.
The driving range at Red Hook is one of the largest in the Hudson Valley. Other amenities include The Club Restaurant, recently renovated locker rooms, and an adept pro staff. The course is noted for its quick drainage, too, so you are unlikely to find yourself wading through a soggy fairway.
Red Hook, like many progressive clubs in the Hudson Valley, has adopted a semiprivate business model. Members receive preferred tee times, unlimited free use of the practice facilities, and discounts on many other items. Greens fees for daily fee play are about $50 on weekends, making Red Hook one of the best bargains in the area.